The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
The Book of Armenian Cooking by Sonia Uvezian
The Book of Armenian Cooking by Sonia Uvezian deserves its place in every food lover's library because it clearly and precisely explains the vibrant and exciting dishes that comprise the cuisine of this now small country that sits at the crossroads of the world.
Before we reviewed this book we thought we should understand more about this fascintating country and the influences that have driven its geo-political circumstances and how the cuisine has been influenced by its geography, climate and history.
We discovered that it is certainly a very old country with its civilisation dating back to the start of recorded history and at times covering huge swathes of Turkey, present day Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and parts of Iran running from the Black Sea almost to the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean. Now it has been reduced to a tiny, land-locked country based around the capital Yerevan.
Traces of major buildings, roads and canals built by the forebears of the Armenians can be traced back to the 4th millennium BC.
They were certainly skilled engineers with the citadel of Tushpa, the main town of the kingdom of Uratu close to the shores of Lake Van now in eastern Turkey, being a major feat of engineering that kept out invaders from all sides. Similarly the land was made fertile through the construction of a long canal called the Canal of Semiramis which brought water to valleys for the production of food crops.
Reading the book The Ancient Civilization of Urartu by Boris Piotrovskii, an archaeologist who studied the citadel, provides a good understanding of the history and development of this fascinating region. It also makes it clear that there was a sophisticated system of agriculture and wine making from a very early age. In fact, according to Piotrovskii in Chapter 3, the town even had a special building to store wine:
'To the north of the courtyard were various buildings, including rooms with central columns and store-rooms for wine and other produce. In the wine-cellars were large earthenware jars, some of them with a capacity of more than 200 gallons, sunk into the earth floor. On the north side of the palace was another open courtyard surrounded by a number of small rooms.
The eastern part of the citadel was occupied by a large building with a pillared central chamber for the storage of wine. This was surrounded by small store-rooms, some of them used as granaries.'
So it is clear that there is a long history of advanced engineering, food storage and fertile farms in this region and this is what Uvezian is documenting for us now.
The introduction to her book gives a good history of the culture of Armenia as well as a brief history of the area.
The book is then divided into the normal Soup, Fish, Poultry, Meat etc chapters of recipes, however there are less common chapters such as a very good one on the pervasive Keufteh, another on Savoury Pastries and another on Pilafs.
One of the first recipes that caught our eye was for Jajik. This is a refreshing dish of cucumber and yoghurt soup, variations of which can be found throughout the Middle East and around the Mediterranean. This is a simple yet interesting recipe and it is worth pointing out here that Uvezian is also an expert on the topic of yoghurt having published a very good book on this topic as well.
We also liked the recipe for Izmir Keufteh which sees minced lamb, soaked bread, egg, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, red pepper, salt and black pepper kneaded into balls, fried in a skillet and then simmered in a tomato and green pepper sauce.
We were also intrigued by a dish that Uvezian calls a 'classic' appetiser which sees a paste of meat, herbs and spices wrapped around a hard boiled egg. Did the inspiration for Scotch eggs come from this part of the world?
If you are a vegetarian then there are many interesting and tasty recipes in this book that contain no meat ingredients.
This is a classic cookbook that faithfully represents the cuisine of Armenia and is playing a great role in explaining the treasures from here to the rest of the world.